Winning the gold at the recent Asian Youth Games in China has turned the spotlight on 17-year-old squash player Kush Kumar. What does he have to say about his success, training and mentors?
Just 17 but six-foot tall, Kush Kumar is a squash player with a bright future. As national coach Cyrus Poncha, under whom he trains, observes, “Since Kush shifted to Chennai four years ago, he has steadily progressed to become a top junior in the country.” Poncha remembers how in 2012 Kush won a decisive match in the World junior championship in Qatar which helped India earn a bronze in the team championship — a first for the country. “What’s remarkable is his desire to excel and the way he works to achieve it,” he says.
Equally high is the praise of Malaysian technical expert Maj S.Maniam, currently technical consultant to the Squash Rackets Federation of India, who structures the training programmes for up-and-coming talent. “What struck me about the boy was his readiness to work hard. I see him go far in the sport,” he says.
A fun-loving youngster like anyone else his age, Kush, a student of Seventh Day Adventist School, has the time and the huge advantage of good training facilities. The youngster from Dhampur has begun well, winning a gold medal in the recent Asian Youth Games held in Nanjing, China. Excerpts from an interview:
What did it feel like to bag gold in the Asian Youth Games? Did you expect it?
I was overwhelmed. I could not believe it when the last rally ended in my favour. It’s always a wonderful feeling to win gold for my country. I did not expect anything while going to the Games. I just told myself I had to perform to the best of my abilities. I am grateful to Major Maniam for his guidance during the event and for the training under Cyrus Poncha.
Then followed the success in the Indian junior open. What next?
My aim is to perform to the best of my ability in the PSA (professional) events and get into the top 100 (currently upwards of 300) in the world ranking. My short-term aim is to win the British Junior Open in January 2014.
How did you take to squash? Did you play any other sport earlier?
In the club at Dhampur (UP), we have two squash courts. Curiosity took me there and what was initially fun turned into a serious interest. Till then, I enjoyed swimming.
When did you join the Indian Squash Academy (ISA)?
I joined ISA in 2009. I had heard of players emerging from the academy in Chennai and was keen to be part of it. So when I got the opportunity, I shifted base. I am happy with this decision. I was welcomed by the ISA which took care of my stay, food and schooling.
How did joining the ISA change your game?
I’ve begun to understand what it takes to become a top player. Earlier I only hit the ball around without knowing the nuances, but now, I have realised the importance of movement on court, shot selection and, most of all, the ability to finish the ball. But, I believe there is a lot more to learn.
Tell us about your achievements thereafter.
If I were to list them, I would place the Asian Youth Games gold right at the top. I won the national champion title seven times in various age categories. Others include: the Under-17 gold medal in the Asian junior championship 2012, held in Kish island (Iran); a bronze in the Under-19 event in the Asian Junior championship 2013 held in Jordan; a bronze in the Under-17 event in the British Junior open; gold in the Indian junior open in 2011, 2012 and 2013; and gold in the U-17 event in the Hong Kong junior championship 2011.
Constant travel, training and mingling with other players…how have all these changed you as a person?
I have made many friends all around the world. The training at the ISA and in other countries have enriched me. Squash has taught me determination and improved my self-confidence.
Who is your idol in the squash world and why?
My idol is Ramy Ashour (of Egypt) not because he is world no.1, I simply like the way he plays.